Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Wai O Tapu Champagne pool
Lady Knox Geyser, sweet as

The only part of Hobbiton we can show
Well we eventually left Whitianga on Sunday 6th on the Kiwi Experience bus, again feeling like teachers on a school trip. We stopped on the way to Rotorua for a half hour walk in an old gold mine in some gorge that we can't pronounce or spell. It was interesting and a fun walk with swing bridges, scary overhangs along cliffs and long unlit rail tunnels complete with tracks and sleepers, health and safety would have a fit in this country! After that it was a short hop to Rotorua itself and a busy afternoon and evening. The coach dropped us off at Te Puia which is a Maori owned thermal area just outside of the city with geysers, hot springs and most importantly bubbling mud pools. Thought we would get heat stroke with the hot sun, the heat from the ground and no shade. After a couple of hours there the coach dropped us at the campsite for a quick shower before our Maori hangi meal that evening. A coach took us and the other Kiwi bus lot to the Tamaki Maori reserve about 16km out of town, along the way the protocols and procedures for the evening where explained, this entailed electing a chief for our Waka (bus in this case) and leaving him to face the ritual challenge and peace making with the warriors and chief of the village! Basically there was a lot of shouting and chanting and then a peace offering of some foliage, we were then able to enter the village. The first part of the evening was in a repilca village where traditional crafts such as weaving, tattooing, games etc where being shown and then it was over to the hangi to watch it being opened. The hangi is a traditional way of cooking where a large pit is dug in the ground and filled with hot rocks etc, food is then placed on top and covered with damp cloths and then soil, in this way is steams gently over several hours creating really tender, earthy tasting food, as we were to discover later! We were then given a short concert by members of the tribe with singing, poi (balls and strings that get twirled around) and a haka. It was then time to eat, being older has its advantages at that point as we could afford a bottle of wine whilst all the others had to drink the free water on the table, it was grand!

The following day was a trip to Matamata the home of Hobbiton (finally a bit of real Hobbit stalking)! It took about an hour to get to The Shires Rest, the cafe on the Alexander farm where the set is situated. Along the way we had to sign all sorts of contracts and confidentiality things which mean we can't put any photos on the internet etc. We jumped on another bus that took us along the military built road through the farmland (looked really like the English countryside) to the set. We arrived just a week before filming for the Hobbit film is due to start so work on the set was almost finished, the guide wasn't sure when filming would actually take place there but the farm was going to be closed to visitors for a number of weeks so we were lucky we got there when we did. The whole place was amazing, it looked just like in the Lord Of The Rings films, quite a thrill to be there and walk around, our tramping on the approved tracks was also creating the pathways needed for the set in the film, so we've took part in set building but we won't ever get a mention in the film credits despite our good work! There was not a single sign of Sir Peter Jackson, Sir Ian McClellan or sex god Orlando, gutted. Back at the farm we were shown and quick sheep shearing demo and then allowed to feed lambs, that and the mince savoury and chocolate cookie made up for that disappointment.

Back in Rotorua we booked a trip to see the thermal parks the following day and got a voucher for free entry to the museum, we trotted along that very afternoon! The museum is in the old baths complex, open from the Victorian times until after the wars, people would come from all over the world for the healing properties of the waters. (They must have been desperate because as we haven't previously mentioned, Rotorua stinks! All over the city plumes of steam can be seen, there is a whole public park of hot springs and mud, in peoples back yards there are hot pools and over it all there is the smell of sulphur, all very odd.) Another good part of the museum was the cinema showing a film about the 1886 volcanic eruption of Lake Tarawera. As you sit down and watch the film you get to a part which describes the eruption, all of a sudden the seats you are in start to shake to simulate how the eruption might have felt, well I wasn't expecting it and got quite a fright as I thought it was real.We eventually got away from the museum and had a walk around the city itself, we also bought a new camera as we were missing having a more powerful one than our waterproof ones. Back at the tent we were amazed how hot it was until we discovered that our tent was on top of a thermal bit, we were near a stream that bubbled and steamed all the time but hadn't realised how far the warmth spread!

The following morning we were picked up for our trip to two of the thermal parks that surround Rotorua, we paraded around the city picking up various passengers and then set out along the thermal explorer highway, first stop was the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts daily at 10.15am (helped by some soap flakes) to a height of up to 30 metres, as it was summer and had been dry it only managed about 10 for us. This was also our first encounter with the irritations involved with our fellow tourists from a fast growing economic power in Asia, they took the same picture with every member of their coach group and were either oblivious to everyone else or really didn't give a toss that no one else could get a photo.We discovered a great way to take a nice photo of Ruth, if she said 'Chinese' when I was about to press the shutter she would be guaranteed not to have her eyes closed and a smile.Back on the road we went firstly to Wai O Tapu, this would probably be a great place to visit when it's not so hot and crowded and if you had more time, we were basically on a jog around the park to get back to the bus in time. Lots of good sights though, Champagne Pool in particular was very nice. A quick bus ride and we were in Waimangu, our new photo chums didn't bother with this so it was much nicer, it was still a quick walk but the views were your own and there was some shade. This valley was formed on 10 June 1886 when Mount Tarawera exploded making it the newest geo-thermal area on the planet, it is closely monitored to see how the ecology re-establishes. Both sites had lots of hot springs, mineral terraces, bubbling mud and sulphury smells. We moved the tent back at the campsite as the ground appeared to be getting hotter, better than an electric blanket. Tomorrow Waitomo...

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